Thursday, December 16, 2010

Who's Your Baby?

For to us a child is born,
To us a son is given,
And the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
There will be no end.
Isaiah 9: 6-7


Isn’t that verse amazing? Wonderful counselor, Mighty God. Michael W. Smith sings a song that uses this verse and he adds “Lord of life, Lord of all.” Lord of all, not the Lord of morning but I’ll handle the afternoons. He is not Lord of my wallet but not my reading material. He is the Lord of all, King of kings. As Christians we sing Scripture all year long. We sing it in church and many of us sing it at home, in the car and anywhere else we happen to go. During the Christmas season we hear hallelujah, gloria, Emmanuel and Jesus sung in places we otherwise never hear the name of God. It’s Christmas so Christ and his buddies get to hang out in places from which they are normally banned.

A couple of years ago a woman with whom I work gave me a Christmas CD. It was a collection of songs by Christian artists. It included some snowy and jingly songs but for the most part it was the fall on your knees, sing gloria, worship God kind of CD. She hated it! “I want Christmas music.” She said, “Not this garbage. Where’s the Santa baby?” “The what?” I replied. Of course I knew what she meant but seriously CHRISTmas music should center for the most part on CHRIST. I mentioned that she was missing the point but she refused to hear me. Don’t get me wrong, I love the snowy and jingling songs too. I just love my Savior more. I do not like the song about Santa that she was looking for. I have no problem with Santa though I know some Christians do. I love the idea of giving being personified in a friendly, jolly guy all dressed in a bright color that draws the attention of children too young to truly grasp what real giving is all about.

It occurs to me that allowing children to focus on Santa for the first few years of life while of course teaching and reading them the true Christmas story is a great way to teach salvation. What does Santa get out of giving? Nothing. What does Jesus get? He gets us, to live at his side and adore him. What do we get from Santa? A toy that lasts a year at best. What do we get from Jesus? Eternal life. What is the greatest difference? Santa is mythical, based on some real saints but mythical all the same and Jesus is as real as real gets. Of course there are all kinds of other differences, which then can be taught to our children, and maybe our children will teach them to adults like my co-worker who doesn’t want a CD about Christ. Oh no, she wants a CD about Christmas or so she thinks. I think she wants a CD about the politically correct “Happy Holiday.”

At first I was irritated that this grown, educated woman refuses to get that Christmas is not about red and green packages, cookies and bows. Then I felt so sad for her because the lack of Christ in her life is not limited to Christmas. In December she may be looking for Santa baby but in January through November she will have to look for something else, just as elusive, just as much a figment of imagination, just as empty as Christmas without Christ.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given” and he will be called Jesus baby, Emmanuel, precious child. “Where is Santa baby?” my co-worker asked. Standing away from and hopefully very far behind Jesus baby. This conversation as I mentioned was not recent. It happened at least two years ago. Today that woman is more bitter and hardened than ever. She is difficult to speak to or be around. I feel so sorry for her. She has found Santa baby this year as she does every year at this time but she has yet to find the Wonderful Counselor that came to us as an innocent child. She embraces the profane and ordinary while ignoring the profound and sacred and it shows. My prayer for her, for you and for me is that this season, every season, we allow ourselves to seek and find Jesus, baby, man, and Savior. We can call him Mighty God, Prince of Peace, Holy One and he will call us his own.

Shivering

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.
Luke 2:8-12


(note: This was written in 2005. Faith and Isabelle are now five years old and sometimes have to be convinced that a jacket is necessary. This week the temperatures in sunny Florida have dipped into the 20’s. Brrr….. it’s cold down here!)

This morning I was singing along with one of my favorite Christmas songs, “Do You Hear What I Hear.” As I sang the words “a child shivers in the cold” I was shivering too. It is important to mention that it was 52 degrees at the time, not exactly freezing. While my formerly Yankee blood has become quite nicely accustomed to the kinder weather of the South over the past 20 years I still remember what subzero freezing is all about. I remember it with great disdain. The word shiver doesn’t accurately describe what your body does in those temperatures. It is more like your own personal earthquake. I remember stiffening every inch of my body in the false belief that stiffening would ward off the bite of the frigid air. I was sort of laughing at my new definition of cold and shivering when the image of one of my brand new granddaughters crossed my mind.

I pictured her tiny body cold and shivering. I thought of how awful my daughter would feel if there were no way to protect Faith from the elements. The night before in the shivery cold 50-degree weather Faith looked a little like an Eskimo baby as she left my house. Her cousin Isabelle had left just a few minutes before her with a tent of blankets encasing her carrier. Our baby girls are kept warm and protected but at the time of his birth our Savior was shivering in the cold, a cold that I’m guessing was a lot more like Syracuse, NY than Orange Park, FL.

We are all quite used to our creature comforts. We forget that each and every one of them is a blessing from a God who loves us enough to watch His Son shiver in the cold. We hear the cliché about being born with a silver spoon. Jesus was born with no spoon at all.

My little angels Faith and Isabelle have nurseries full of soft cozy blankets and clothes and toys that they won’t use for months to come. Mary did not have the luxury of that kind of prepping for Jesus’ birth. We do. Today Jesus doesn’t need a literal blanket but it might warm his heart to be covered up in praise. Don’t let your Savior shiver in the cold of neglect this Christmas. Praise his name every chance you get. Celebrate his birthday by offering him yourself. Wrap him in your love. You may be assured you are wrapped in his.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given.
And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father,
Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end. Isaiah 9:6-7


On Sunday I visited a different church than the one we attend, to see my granddaughters in their Christmas play. First let me say, they were the cutest three up there! Okay, really, the whole group was adorable, including the one-in-every-crowd, who waved to the audience the entire time. Not my main point!

The pastor spoke on Isaiah 9:6, which is one of my favorite verses. It is so strong. A child is born who will be called, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” A child who will be mighty and powerful but who will first be stalked and later persecuted. Even in Isaiah’s times those words were strong but as we sit today, knowing the whole story of this “child” it is even more incredible.
At one point during his message the pastor asked, “When was the last time you stood in awe of Jesus?” My responding thought was “last night during my prayers.” I felt immediately grateful. To be in awe of Jesus is a wonderful feeling. Those are the moments when I fully realize my faith, how deep it goes and on whom it rests.

Again, let me mention that we were not in our own church. This was the church attached to our granddaughters pre-school. We weren’t the only non-members there. In fact, by the confusion and general discomfort of many of the people in the building, I could tell that several were not church goers at all. So, the thought that quickly followed my own gratitude was sadness.

It is unfathomable to me that awe of Jesus would be a foreign concept. As I stand in this season of baby Jesus, fall on your knees, let earth receive her King, it is very sad to me that right near me, sitting in church are people who have never known the breathtaking awe of the presence of God.

This is the Christmas season. It is a season where most minds and some hearts are turned toward giving. My heart and mind are pretty set on giving. I love giving gifts. Sitting in that church listening to the pastor I wished that I knew some way to point people in the direction of THE gift, Jesus. I have made or purchased some really nice gifts for those near and dear to me, nothing expensive but all of them thoughtful or more to the point thought-filled. What I can’t do is put a bow on the Wonderful Counselor, Prince of Peace, Mighty God but I can pray that something, somewhere, sometime, shines through me to draw attention to Him.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Reading is Fundamental

Finally brothers what is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

They say reading is fundamental and I believe it. Reading is pretty much like breathing to me. I read everything. Certainly there are things I prefer to read but honestly whatever written word is in front of me is going to be read. Have you seen those personalized license plates? They are supposed to be making the driver’s statement I guess. Some are easy to understand but others are indiscernible. I get 2QT4U but what does I2O7GP mean? You might suggest that I just stop reading them but I’m telling you, I cannot. It’s an automatic reaction. I see letters and I read. I’m not joking, it doesn’t end with license plates. I read everything, hats, t-shirts, bumper stickers, if it has print I’ll read it. That, has become a rather disconcerting and unfortunate obsession, given our current, do and say whatever I want, climate.

This really hit me hard the other day when I was driving down the road behind a small truck with, not one but two, unsavory adages applied to the back of the vehicle. The words were so disgusting I will not print them here but suffice to say they planted a mental image I would like to have burned from my memory. Thanks be to God I will forget them eventually but at odd points during that day the thought would occur and I would shudder. It is my contention that the general public should not have to contend with anyone’s private fetish or depravity. With all due respect to the first amendment, give me a break already!

It’s bad enough when a so-called adult puts those statements on a car, hat or t-shirt but when I see children wearing rude, suggestive or disrespectful sentiments on their clothing I get really upset. Perhaps I shouldn’t judge but the Scripture says that salt water and fresh water cannot be in the same stream. (James 3:9-12)
Our Lord in His infinite love gave us eyes to see and minds to read, think and comprehend. I do not believe that He intends for us to read or think about someone else’s moral depravity or even just bad taste.

Of course I can’t do a thing about it. We live in a time where very little is private and even less is sacred. Unfortunately for me I continue to be a readaholic and maybe you are too. I just wish people would keep some of their sick thoughts to themselves

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Wanting Home

“Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”
Luke 2:49


Do you ever long for home? Maybe when you’re at work, or out running errands, you just stop and think, “I wish I could be home.” I know I do. Some days I just want to be at home. Some days I want to go home, as in to heaven. That is not to say that I am depressed or suicidal. I just want to be with my Dad. I want to go where things make better sense. I want to truly see the face of my Father and of my brother, Jesus. Sometimes when I hear of a person dying I envy them a bit. Their journey is over and they are right where I want to be, home.
In our class we have a student who says some pretty kooky things. Every now and then he’ll tell me, “Boysen, I’m going to take you to heaven and then I’m going to bring you back.” I always reply, “Little man, once I get to heaven I am not coming back!” Can you imagine it? You’ve had heaven, lived there, loved and been loved there, walked the streets, met the inhabitants and oh wait, back you go. If I did have to come back, I promise you it would be done with massive amounts of kicking and screaming! Jesus gave all of that up to come and save us. He didn’t come into a nice cushy lifestyle either. He came to a stable, cold, poor and hunted. Wow, lousy trade!

We focus on the crucifixion as Jesus’ great sacrifice for us. The truth is his entire existence on earth was an enormous sacrifice. In the passage from Luke Jesus has gone missing from his family’s caravan. When his parents find him and ask what he’s doing he responds with the above verse. Didn’t they know he had to be in his Father’s house? No, they didn’t. They didn’t understand the longing of his soul for the perfect home he’d left behind. They didn’t understand the depth of his need for his Father. I don’t either because I haven’t been to heaven but I do know the watered down, human nature variety of that longing and it is pretty strong. Have you experienced that longing? Do you know the feeling of just wanting to get closer to God?

When we read the passage from Luke 2:41-52 we focus on Mary’s feelings. We look at the idea that this twelve year-old Jesus seems wise beyond his years and yet wandered off. We need to look at his longing. He “had” to be in his Father’s house. That is the kind of devotion to God that I want to have. I want to be so lonely for my Abba that I just want to sit in the house we’ve built for him here while I wait to go to the house he’s built for me there.
I don’t want to be so heavenly bound that I’m no earthly good. Certainly Jesus wasn’t. He knew he would go home eventually but he also knew his purpose here. Still sometimes he just wanted to be with his Abba. This passage is often used to illustrate Jesus’ understanding of who he was. I think it shows just as well, a boy longing for his home.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Parentage

Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph. Luke 3:23

We live in the time after the story played out. We know who Jesus is. We know his parentage but the people who lived in his time did not. “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph.” Hm…. Jesus knew who his real father was (Luke 2:49) but the people around him saw him as Mary and Joseph’s son.

I grew up in an environment where a lot of things are kept secret. It’s all for someone’s good of course, but it results in lies and those types of things often end badly. More than once I heard stories of a child being told that his/her grandparents were the parents because an older sister had given birth at too young an age. No joke, this was not a one-time story in my life. Did you ever have that moment when you wished someone would tell you that you were adopted? I have. Of course for me it was a pie in the sky wish. My two oldest sisters are women who followed the rules. So I wasn’t getting that disclosure. I am number five to a mother who only wanted two children. Clearly she didn’t look for a child to adopt. Therefore, I am the product of the two people who raised me, for sure. So let’s look at Jesus’ story.

Over here is Jesus, going out to do his job, the job his Abba sent him to do. Over here are the rest of the people, whispering behind their hands. “Isn’t that Jesus? He’s the carpenter’s kid, right? Well, look at him, preaching on the corner, making wine from water, giving blind men sight and lame men legs. And what was that?!? Did he just tell that chick her sins were forgiven? He’s nuts!”
The hometown crew may have had trouble believing what they were seeing. After all, everyone knew the story, illegitimate and all that jazz. Jesus’ known parentage should have kept him hiding in his home. He was the child conceived before the wedding. He was the shame of his mother, at least as the worldly view saw it. Jesus knew better. He knew he was the Son of God. He knew his father and he knew how much his father loved him.

That same knowledge exists for us. I am the daughter, by birth, of Genevieve and Joseph but my real father is God. Jesus didn’t let his odd, questionable parentage limit his ministry. We can’t either. Whether you have great parents or poor ones if you will accept the truth, you’ll know that your real father is God. He stands with open arms, waiting to welcome you. Then you can be called his own, and the names on your birth certificate will carry far less significance than the fact that your name is the only book that matters, the Book of Life.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

A Happy Ending

“Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene who was crucified. He is risen. See the place where they laid him.”
After the Lord Jesus spoke to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.
Mark 16:6; 19


When I read I want a happy ending. I’m all for mystery, tension, and intrigue as the story builds but in the end I want everyone, or at least all the good guys, to have a positive conclusion. A lot of boy meets girl stories follow the same pattern, boy meets girl, boy loses girl through some flaw in one of them or crazy mix-up and then, boy regains girl and they live happily ever after. Okay fine, except for the part where boy loses girl for some contrived reason, or in a mystery where an innocent person is being punished for a crime they didn’t commit while the criminal walks free. Those are the parts I don’t like. In reading the Gospel I find the same anxious, oh no not this part, feel when I get to the section in all four where it says, “Triumphal entry.” That sounds positive but those of us who know the story know that right after that triumph comes the torture and the cross. I don’t like that part at all. I know it’s necessary and I am immensely grateful for it, I just feel horribly uncomfortable when I read it.

In the Gospel there is the most happy ending ever. Jesus rises from the grave. He is alive! He is free and by that act so are we. The ultimate happy ending! There is no more positive a conclusion than that one. Still to get there we have to go with Jesus through his dark night of the soul in the garden. We have to stand by helpless to change a thing, as he is questioned, beaten and humiliated. We have to envision the cross, the nails and as we do some of us feel a glimmer of that pain. Most of us see the injustice, the unfairness of beating and killing an innocent man. Nevertheless it is the pivotal point of the story. Without the Cross there is no resurrection, no amazing display of unconditional, without borders or prejudice, endless love. Reading those chapters, those conversations, makes me so sad, so uncomfortable. I want the happy ending. I want to turn to the last page and know that this sweet dear man, who is my favorite character in all the other stories of the book, will be okay. I want him to get the big prize, be the winner and receive some recognition.

There is a happy ending for sure, Jesus is alive and reigns in heaven with our Father. But, I have, we all have, a responsibility to make sure that he gets the big prize and receives the adoration and recognition he so richly deserves. Oddly, we, the people who put him through the parts I’d rather not read, are the prize. We are able to give him that adoration and recognition. We can be part of the happy ending. He doesn’t need us. He is perfect all on his own but for some reason, for which we should be ridiculously grateful, he wants us! And that, as a former pastor of mine used to say, is very Good News.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Mary's Joy

“Blessed are you among women and blessed
is the child you will bear. Luke 1:42b


At this time of year, as we sing and read about the birth of Jesus, we also hear more about Mary. I was raised in a Roman Catholic home, so I heard a lot about Mary year round. For most people though, Mary comes into her own during Advent, those weeks leading up to Christmas, when we also focus on baby Jesus much more than the Jesus of the Cross. Like many people I have given a lot of thought to how Mary might have felt, pregnant, unmarried and very young. The words overwhelmed, terrified and humiliated come most quickly to mind and I’m sure they are fairly accurate. Still, there could very well be another side to the story. Regardless of the questionable circumstances, Mary was pregnant with the Son of God. So excitement is a word you might add to the list. Again, regardless of the circumstances Mary was pregnant. If you’ve never been pregnant that may not mean anything to you but having been pregnant and given birth I know how amazing that process can be.

One day you’re going along, all by yourself, working, cooking, shopping, chatting with friends and then suddenly you are not alone. A bit later and that other being makes his or her presence felt. A little kick here, a little jab there and that tiny human being becomes very real. It’s a humbling and wonderful feeling to be even a teeny, tiny part of the creative process. I certainly hope that Mary felt that exhilaration.

Today we know the whole story. We know that she was carrying the Savior. We know that in order to be our savior, Jesus would suffer a ridiculous amount of humiliation and pain. We also know that after suffering he would rise from the grave in the biggest victory ever experienced in our world. The man Jesus would throw off the grave cloth, roll back the enormous, cumbersome stone and walk free from the grave, freed from the limits and cares of this world. Mary didn’t know any of that. Thankfully she didn’t know about the suffering, although, Simeon tried to tell her. (Luke 2:25-35) She didn’t know about the great victory and she wouldn’t even as she stood and watched her precious boy dying. All she knows in those first days and months is that she is pregnant and that this baby is as special as they come.
I have four children, Paul, Joseph, Jeffrey and Laura. They have given me several grandchildren and will be giving me more. Each one of my babies was special to me, even while in the womb. Each one of my grandchildren is special in our family. They precious and dearly loved but each one was conceived in the usual way, no angel intervention. Add that aspect and special becomes SPECIAL, bold letter, flashing neon lights, you definitely want to check this out, special.

Was Mary terrified? I bet she was. Was she humiliated? She was an unmarried pregnant teenage girl in a day when women had little to no value and could be stoned for much less. So, yes, I bet she was humiliated but I also like to think that she was thrilled, excited and amazed. The birth of Christ is an amazing event and she had the front row seat. That is pretty exciting.